I find myself sitting in front of a crowded room of inquisitive faces—“techies” from the Kentucky State Department of Education who want to know what I think about the technology they provide teachers in the state.
Feeling entirely inadequate for this scenario, I show them my flip phone with an actual keyboard and explain to them how I just, JUST recently switched from VHS to DVDs, but they tell me I’m “the perfect candidate” for this questioning. They tell me a specific story about a major international company from whom they purchased a very expensive web platform for teachers’ professional use, and only 1% of teachers in the state are using it. They tell me that when they took their concerns to the company, the brilliant minds who thought up this platform never once bothered to test it on actual teachers.
Who’d have thought testing an educational platform on the users—teachers—was mandatory, anyway? The irony of the situation kills me.
They want to hear—and by the look on their faces, really want to hear—from a “non-techie” teacher. Someone who’s going to get frustrated with newfangled technologies pretty quickly. I tell them if that’s what they want, then I’m their girl. Because I hate—no, loathe—new technology, and I especially hate it in education.
So when I packed up my suitcase and told people who had known me for years that I was flying to D.C. to create a web platform, my friends and colleagues thought I was playing a joke on them. I thought Redesign Challenge (or RDC), the group who invited me to come to D.C. based solely on a quick proposal I submitted to their site, was playing a joke on me. I’d get there, someone would greet me at the airport, throw rotten vegetables at me, and shout, “Go home, tech idiot!”
But thankfully, that never came to pass. What came instead was the most empowering weekend of my life. As a teacher, I have ideas all the time about how to improve the process of teaching and learning, but I usually just jot them down in a notebook and forget about them because I am never given the opportunity to turn them into reality. We never get the chance to meet people with the power to do that.
RDC (a workshop with teachers tackling common challenges in K-12) was an experience that flew in real experts in technology, design thinking, media, and education. These experts hung around, asked questions, listened, and advised . It occurred to me that although I saw them as experts in technology, they recognized that I was an expert in educational innovation. No one had ever recognized that before. Ever.
My experience with RDC and working to develop my platform, Curio, since, has illuminated for me the reason why I am often so frustrated with technology: educational technology is often just something else we have to juggle, rather than something that we can help create in order to ease our burdens.
So often, the technology I’m given to work with in my classroom or to develop me as a professional really doesn’t connect to my own real experience of teaching and learning. I rarely encounter what Shelly Blake-Plock explains as, “Technologies built from the raw stuff of student and teacher experience.” Usually I integrate technology for technology’s sake, rather than because it truly transforms my experience as an educator or my students’ experiences as students.
Here’s the honest truth: the only people who can harness the true power of technology in education are teachers.
In order for the transformation that technology could have for our students to actually occur, teachers—and students—need to the be the creators of those technologies. Until my experience as a technology creator, I didn’t recognize the power technology could have to change our education system. Before I created Curio, technology was a burden for me. Now, I see that technology is the true agent for change in education—but only if teachers are integral to the creation of the technology.
I didn’t switch to DVDs until after VHSs became obsolete. I will hold on to my flip phone with a tightly clenched fist until I can no longer purchase one at the store. Yet, I am a key demographic for edtech creators, developers, and implementers. I am the one they watch with fascination now and question intently about how I use the school voicemail system.
It’s time that teachers like me—and even those a bit more advanced—tap into that power by creating technology that makes sense for us. Until then, we will never see the true transformative power that edtech could hold.